NFL Betting: Does Denver Have An Early Season ATS Advantage?

Denver Against the Spread Splits

We wrote a post to have an excuse to post the old Broncos uniforms (Photo By John Cordes/ICON Sportswire)

The Denver Broncos are a unique team in the NFL:

  • At home, the Broncos play at the highest elevation of any team in the NFL — in fact, about 4,000 feet in elevation higher than any other NFL city.
  • Denver is the only NFL city that is in the Mountain Time Zone and on Daylight Savings Time. (Phoenix is also in the Mountain Time Zone but does not observe Daylight Savings, putting them with the Pacific Time Zone for nearly half the season.
  • Denver is geographically isolated, more than 600 miles from the nearest potential opponent (Kansas City).

Because of some of these unique traits, when it comes to performance against the point spread, some results and trends involving Denver might not be as random as you would expect with other teams.

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Denver Against The Spread and Point Total Results, By Week

We have NFL point spread results going back to the 1985 season. Here are the results for Denver, by week of the season, going all the way back to that year.

The results shown in this table include a variety of different Denver teams and team qualities, such as when they had John Elway, when they had Tim Tebow, the Mike Shanahan Super Bowl era, when they went 4-12 in 2010, Peyton Manning’s time in Denver, etc.

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, By Week, 1985-2019

WEEK SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
1241100.686191420.571201500.571
227710.786231020.686191510.557
3201500.571131840.429181600.529
4171500.531161420.531161600.500
5221100.667151710.470171410.547
6211200.636161700.485151800.455
7161200.571161110.589161020.607
8131900.406141620.469161510.516
9161200.571121510.44619720.714
1022900.710201100.645141610.468
11241000.706191410.574142000.412
12161800.471122110.368201310.603
13211400.600181520.543191600.543
14191600.543142100.400161810.471
15161800.471142000.412181510.544
16171700.500142000.412171700.500
17161400.533131610.450121620.433

What stands out a bit is that Denver’s spread record late in the year is a losing one, compared with early in the year.

In the first two weeks, for example, Denver is 42-24-4 (63.6%) against the spread since 1985. (That record doesn’t include Week 1 of 2020, when Denver lost but covered the spread at home against Tennessee.) The Over also hit 56.4% of the time in the first two weeks.

In contrast, Denver is 55-77-1 (41.7%) ATS in the final four weeks of the season, which usually corresponds with the month of December.

Let’s organize this into groups and also split it by home and away results. Here are the home results, divided into groups by weeks of the season:

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, At Home, By Season Segment, 1985-2019

WEEKS SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
FIRST 5732200.768454190.521573520.617
6 TO 9372100.638322330.578332320.586
10 TO 13412000.672283210.467332620.557
14 TO 17462000.697273810.417293430.462

And here are the road results:

Denver Broncos ATS and Over/Under Results, On The Road, By Season Segment, 1985-2019

WEEKS SU WSU LSU TPCT ATS WATS LATS TPCT OUNOVER PCT
FIRST 5373710.500413220.560334100.446
6 TO 9293400.460263610.421332730.548
10 TO 13423100.575412930.582343900.466
14 TO 17224500.328283900.418343210.515

Checking the Denver Splits Across Time

The amount of data we’re looking at here isn’t a lot, but Denver does appear to show a tendency to cover the spread more often early in the year, especially at home. The Broncos’ over/under results also have generally trended from Over to Under when comparing early to late season splits.

Sometimes things that look like longer term trends end up being highly skewed by results from a few years that may not be very relevant any more, so let’s do another quick test. The game of NFL football has changed a lot since 1985, so let’s cut the data into two roughly equal time periods (1985-2001 and 2002-2019) and see if the trends hold.

As it turns out:

  • The over/under trends mostly go away. Denver has some extreme over/under results from 1985-2001, going over the total points line in 73% of home games in the first five weeks of the season, compared to the over hitting just 43% of the time in the last month of the season. However, that trend has not been as pronounced since 2002.
  • The early vs. late season point spread results splits also become less pronounced, though the Broncos still have a strong ATS record in Weeks 1 and 2. Denver covered the spread 70% of the time in Weeks 1 and 2 prior to 2001, and has covered 56% of the time since 2002.
  • The late season poor ATS performance is present in both samples. Denver went 26-35 ATS (42.6%) from 1985-2001 in Week 14 or later, and has gone 29-42-1 ATS (41.0%) from Week 14 on since 2002.

Theories on the Denver Spread Results

The sample sizes are too small here to definitively come to any conclusions; any trends we’re seeing could just be random. However, with Denver in particular, there are at least plausible theories that could help explain some of these numbers.

First, playing at elevation is an advantage if you are used to it and your opponent is not. (If you have ever traveled to the Rocky Mountains and tried to do some strenuous exercise you likely have experienced this phenomenon.) There’s a good reason that elite distance runners like to train at elevation.

At the same time, over the years NFL teams and players have gotten much better at at offseason conditioning, year-round training, and opponent scouting and preparation. So some of Denver’s more extreme past success may have been due to having a big training advantage and better conditioning at altitude than their opponents early in the season, but that advantage is dissipating over time.

Meanwhile, the primary potential disadvantage for Denver is its extreme travel schedule. Denver routinely travels further than most teams. Virtually every road trip is to a different time zone, at a distance that requires a lengthy flight, to a stadium at a much lower elevation. It wouldn’t be out of the question that travel fatigue could start having an outsized impact on the Broncos toward the end of the season.

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